The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that employees asking to be compensated for changing into safety clothing and walking to their work stations are undermining the efforts of the union that represents them.
In Clifton Sandifer, et. al. v. United States Steel Corporation, Nos. 10-1821, 10-1866, Clifton Sandifer and other workers claimed that United States Steel Corp. was in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act by not compensating them for the time they spend changing into safety gear and walking to their work stations. A District judge held that clothes changing is excluded from the FLSA, as outlined in Section 203(o), but he certified for interlocutory appeal the question of whether “travel time” was compensable. The plaintiffs cross-appealed the District Court’s decision about whether changing clothes is compensable.
The plaintiffs argue that the term “clothes” does not apply to the present case, because the garments that they change into and out of before and after their shift are safety gear. On behalf of the 7th Circuit panel, Judge Richard Posner wrote that clothing is by nature protective.
“It would be absurd to exclude all work clothes that have a protective function from section 203(o), and thus limit the exclusion largely to actors’ costumes and waiters’ and doormen’s uniforms,” Posner wrote. He also stated that putting on a hard had and safety glasses and inserting earplugs was non-compensable, as all of those actions combined lasted only seconds.
U.S. Steel’s collective bargaining agreement does not require it to pay workers for walking to their work stations or changing clothes. And Posner wrote that if workers have a legal right to be paid for that time, “the company will be less willing to pay them a high wage for the time during which they are making steel; it will push hard to reduce the hourly wage so that its overall labor costs do not rise.”
Posner also wrote that not all requirements of employees constitute employment, using as an example that when a person calls in sick to work, unless he is on paid sick leave, he is not paid for the time it takes to place that call.
“The plaintiffs are adverse to their union, to the interests of other steelworkers, and to their own long-term interests.” Posner wrote.
The 7th Circuit affirmed the District Court’s finding that the act of changing clothes is non-compensable. It also ruled in favor of U.S. Steel on interlocutory appeal and found the case has no merit and should be dismissed by the District Court.